Software developer

How I got here: Software Developer Mike Lamb went from “Well Under El” to Presenting Business Executives

Seven years ago, I was 27 and homeless for the second time in a year.

It was the unsurprising result of a 13-year struggle with drug addiction that had thwarted all my attempts to get my life off the ground. It had taken me five years to accumulate 61 college credits before my will to show up for class was completely shattered. I had worked in hardware and liquor stores, washed dishes, shoveled asphalt and served tables, before becoming totally unemployed.

I remember knowing in my bones that the rest of my life would be a revolving door between streets, prisons and hospitals. I remember feeling like a ghost outside of Wawa as the morning commuters rushed past me from all sides. Their lives were unfathomable to me.

When I landed on the steps of the Last stop in Kensington – “recovering from the El” – I was looking for a way to get off the streets for one night. What I found instead was a community of people who were like me, but who were learning to live a different way of life.

Mike Lamb in 2015. (Courtesy photo)

I stayed there for a year and slowly began to learn to live in an environment that fostered a constant focus on service. After about six months, I got a job as a waiter at Fishtown Dinner (at the time it was Mugshot Diner). I worked there for 15 months. In my spare time, I have worked for various volunteer efforts in Camden and Kensington.

In the spring of 2016, I received my CV in front of someone who was looking for a body to fill a seat on a contract.

The work was repetitive, with a lot of copy and paste. It also required extensive research on a bunch of different systems with poor user interfaces. I was good at doing the repetitive parts quickly. My tolerance for mundane details was like a superpower. I had a knack for identifying models to speed up the research process. I became a team leader and trained the other team members with what I learned.

I stayed in this role for 21 months, but realized that I wasn’t developing marketable skills for the future. I considered going back to university to finish my studies. I was approaching 30 with tens of thousands of dollars in student debt still owed from the first time. I was against the idea of ​​taking on new debt and the opportunity cost of spending so much time just to get a benchmark degree.

Fortunately, I had also developed an interest in code while working so much with Excel. After about six months of researching bootcamps, I decided to take the risk and signed up to New York Code + Design Academy. I cashed in the few thousand dollars I had in a 401 (k) at the time in order to have the money to survive for a few months without a job.

Towards the end of my three month bootcamp, I brought an idea to Code for Philly 2018 month Launch Pad Hackathon. It was a web application for charities serving the homeless to let the community know what items they need. The concept would also allow donors to make informed donation decisions to better meet the needs of their community. Volunteer organizations often have too many commonly donated items (think shirts and pants), while suffering shortages of other important items like socks and underwear. I presented my team’s project at the end of the month, and our work won the competition by public vote.

An audience watching a presentation.

At the Code for Philly’s Civic Engagement Launchpad 2018 demo party (Photo courtesy of Code for Philly)

After the bootcamp, my old boss made me a great offer to return to my old business. My money would run out within two months and if I didn’t have a job by then I would have to go back to the waiting tables. I decided that it would be better to earn more in the short term and gain more time to complement my web development skills, so I accepted the job.

It turned out to be a great opportunity to create myself a developer role by automating the most repetitive and time consuming work of the team. Over the next two years, I gained the invaluable experience of following a program from design, through development and deployment.

Being in management consulting, I was also deeply involved in the sales process. I have developed demos and delivered presentations for stakeholders up to executive level, both for our client and within my own company. I participated in strategy sessions and helped write proposals.

I am grateful for the opportunity to develop such an interdisciplinary skill set, but I believe my talents should be put to use in a way more aligned with my values. I’m going on my own as a consultant to bring the benefits of modern tech stacks to small businesses and individual creators.

I share my story because I want to challenge the idea that people from certain walks of life should be silent. My story is obviously not for everyone, and not for all contexts, but it has shaped who I am on a fundamental level.

My favorite thing about technology is the way it decouples power from institutions and old norms. I feel compelled to devote my energy to spreading this opportunity.